21st March 2018



Not to be confused with The Birdie Song, BIRDSONG started out in 1993 as a war novel and family saga written by English author Sebastian Faulks. It’s also been televised by Auntie – aka the BBC.

front cover of Birdsong programme - birdsong at the wyvern

Birdsong on tour, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 hostilities, is based on Faulk’s 1993 novel.

The first thing I have to do is apologise: I have a terrible asthmatic cough at the moment so there were times when it was less birdsong and more hacking old crow. I’m sorry. I know it’s annoying. The dry ice didn’t help. I did leave the auditorium when it got particularly bad. Plus my companion had a difficult evening for a different reason so between we must have driven the couple at the end of our row barmy! So, so sorry.  Right – moving on …

I confess I’ve not read this book nor seen the adaptation on TV so I came to this stage adaptation with unsullied eyes. But, thinking of the subject matter, (and I don’t to talk about that the plot much – spoilers etc) I’m struck that the stage must be quite the best way to present the story. What better way, than on the confines of a small stage, to depict and to convey the physical location – in tunnels and dug-outs on a WWI battlefield – and the claustrophobia there of?

We can none of us, begin to imagine the awfulness of being there. And thank goodness we don’t have to. Yet dramas such as this are a powerful means of taking us there and going some way to be in their terror-filled shoes without recourse to dramatic special effects and CGI and gallons of Kensington gore.

One of my favourite plays is Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia – also written in 1993. Curious. That play has a stage setting that’s sparse in the extreme: a single large table with everyday items on each end for the period of the play one is in at a particular point in it action. I was reminded of that last night. Though not as sparse as that staging, the staging for Birdsong is minimal. Clever movement around the stage, a quick of a chair there, bring on a chaise longue here, and you moved seamlessly from Belgian bar, to picnic, to bedroom, to country house. All smoothly and tightly choreographed. Clever stuff.

Dig for victory

Some of the character focus of this play is on the men digging out the tunnels. They came to it from a civilian background of being a collier, or sewage or tube line construction. 3000 of them died engaged in this dirty, dangerous work. The trenches were bad. This was arguably worse still.

This, and Journey’s End, a powerful and haunting play from 1928, are moving evocations of WWI stories. These are just two stories – microcosms. Expand that out to the entire war and you get some sense of its unrelenting terror and … tedium. But the best thing of all is that we get to go home – and so many, many of them didn’t.

The play is running until this Saturday 24th March. Visit the Wyvern Theatre here to book tickets. I recommend you do. It’s a great slice of drama. 

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